African Americans continued to be battered by a high rate of unemployment on the eve of the high-stakes presidential election, as numbers rose in October to 14.3 percent from 13.4 percent in September, the U.S. Department of Labor said on Friday.
More stunning were the statistics for the jobless rate among African-American teens: 40.5 percent, rising from 36.7 percent in September.
The bad news for the African American community occurs against the backdrop of overall good news for the nation. Employers added 171,000 jobs in October, exceeding the expectations of pundits and President Barack Obama’s Republican challenger Mitt Romney.
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While both campaigns seized the opportunity to meld the numbers to their benefit, other elected officials who represent African Americans and youth expressed concern about the figures and how they impact their constituents.
One of them was Rep. Danny K. Davis (Ill-D), who reiterated his past position to NewsOne that the disturbing African American unemployment numbers mean that government officials like himself have to invest in job training programs for workers who are increasingly losing work in the public sector. He said that steps need to be taken to help ex-cons obtain jobs. Many of them make up the bulk of the unemployment figures, he said.
“When you look at the stats and see that about 700,000 people come out of jail each year and about half of them are African American men,” Davis said. “Multiply that by 10 years and you have large numbers of unemployed people.”
Davis went on to say that he is hopeful that the numbers will not have a negative impact on Election Day, though he recently encountered optimism and despair during a recent talk.
“I spoke to a group who felt no sense of hope,” he said about the election and unemployment. “But there were some who expressed a belief that if they did vote it would create more opportunities. It was encouraging.”
However, Generation Opportunity, one of the largest non-profit, non-partisan organizations in the United States engaging and mobilizing young Americans on the important economic issues facing the nation, was less generous.
The group’s president, Paul T. Conway, former chief of staff of Dept. of Labor under Secretary Elaine L. Chao and former chief of staff of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, issued a critical statement of the president on Friday.
“Under President Obama, young Americans have endured historically high, sustained unemployment and underemployment. Young Americans know their careers and dreams have been held back by a poor economy resulting from the relentless execution of failed policies and leadership that lacks empathy,” Conway said in a prepared statement. “They are savvy and determined, knowing full well that periods of unemployment or a series of part-time jobs are not acceptable and are no substitute for meaningful, full-time jobs that make full use of their education and skills.”
Conway further stated: “For the President, the failure to address young adult unemployment and to understand the negative impact on their hopes will, in retrospect, be seen as the reason why he lost support among millions of who once believed in his ability to affect lasting change.”
Both campaigns, however, spent the day putting their spin on the numbers ahead of Election Day. The Washington Post reports:
At a rally in Hillard, Ohio, President Obama noted the hiring increase and touted his stewardship of the economic recovery. “We’ve created 5.4 million new jobs, and this morning we learned companies hired more workers in October than any time in the last 8 months,” Obama said. “The American auto industry is back on top. Home values and housing construction are on the rise. We’re less dependent on foreign oil than at any time in the past 20 years. We’ve made real progress, but we’re here today because we know we have more work to do.”
Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney took the opposite view and focused on the higher unemployment rate, calling it “sad reminder that the economy is at a virtual standstill.”
“The jobless rate is higher than it was when President Obama took office,” Romney said in a statement, “and there are still 23 million Americans struggling for work.”
Republicans have said that Obama has not done enough to improve the economy during his tenure. The number of people employed is virtually the same as when he took office in January 2009.
While October’s numbers might not have the immediate political impact of the steep drop in unemployment recorded in September — which quickly became fodder for the presidential campaign — the details in these figures are more positive than those from four weeks ago.
For his part, Congressman Davis said he remains hopeful about President Obama’s re-election.
“We’ve been through a lot,” he said. “But I see a second term.”